Paige Dees said it started with a Bible study in 1 Peter that she was doing when she first got to Atlanta.
“Peter talks about how we live among the Gentiles, and we just need to have good conduct, and just continue to be honorable,” she said. “They’re going to say bad things about you, but it doesn’t matter because they’ll continue to see your lives. Eventually they’ll say, ‘Okay, we have nothing bad to say about them. They’re doing awesome things.’ And then they’ll come to Christ through that.”
The study was a game changer for Paige, whose husband, Jason, is senior pastor of Christ Covenant in Atlanta.
“As I studied what the church was supposed to be, one of the things I realized is that our church was not doing a good job of was caring for the poor,” she said. “That became the thing that I really started praying about, because I realized that is so, so important to the Lord.”
Not long after that, someone from a previous church came to live with the Dees family for a month or two while she started a new job at a Title I elementary school nearby. Paige started talking with her about her students and how they were doing.
“She teaches fourth grade, and she said, ‘Well, today I wrote the word ‘did’ on the board and said, “Who can read this word?”’ Only about one third of the class could read the word,” Paige said. “She said another problem was that her class struggles to comprehend. When she read something to them and asked them questions, they couldn’t answer the questions.”
Paige began to realize that “the least of these” were in her backyard, and she was overwhelmed. Then she started forming a plan. She reached out to Donna Gaines — the wife of Steve Gaines, senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee — about the ARISE2Read program they run in Title I schools in downtown Memphis. They tutor hundreds of students each week.
Paige asked her if she thought they could do something like that in Atlanta, and she said yes.
“They started training us,” Paige said. “The Lord started providing the people and the team to help me.”
And they started a new program called Read Together ATL at Boyd Elementary, the school where her friend teaches. When Paige reached out to them, the administration was so excited and knew it was such a desperate need that they asked if they could start the next day. Her response? “Let’s do this.”
“I started realizing the huge need that the public schools have, especially the Title I schools,” Paige said.
And the need only increased because of the pandemic.
“Now we’re working on a plan to try to tutor as many kids as possible at Boyd Elementary,” Paige said. “They say a million kids are going to drop out because of this pandemic. I say, ‘Not in our city. Not if we as churches really step up.’ Many of the people in our city, don’t have a really great opinion of the church. I believe this is a beautiful time where the church can serve the city in such a way and share the gospel in such a way that can really be a huge light for this city and change people’s thoughts and opinions of what the church is in the first place.”
Her hope and prayer is that they could get other churches to adopt the more than 40 Title I schools in Atlanta — and not just through the reading program.
“We’re providing lunches now and putting them in their backpacks because these kids don’t have food. We’re doing snacks because the teachers said that kids can’t concentrate because they don’t eat very much,” Paige said.
It has opened the door tremendously at the school and been great for the church too, she said.
“Our people love it, and they’re just so excited to be able to serve,” Paige said. “The school is just blown away that a church would do something like this. I don’t know how this happened, but it did.”
For more information about the effort and Christ Covenant’s work, visit readtogetheratl.org.
Published May 25, 2021